When it comes to sleep, we know that it’s important for keeping us alert during the day and helping our bodies heal at night. But getting some serious shut-eye — especially those deep REM cycles — is actually critical for keeping our minds sharp over time, too. In fact, a recent study shows that deep sleep could play a big part in preventing and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s over time.
New research published in PLOS Biology looked into what role deep sleep cycles play in ridding “waste” from the brain. Scientists believe that cerebrospinal fluid, which is the liquid that surrounds the tissue in our brain, carries out the waste products, primarily toxic amyloid-beta and tau proteins, that our mind excretes. These same proteins are often found in early cases of cognitive decline, which are linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The obvious question is, when does the brain find time to get rid of that waste if it’s working so hard while you’re awake?
To answer it, researchers reviewed data from 118 subjects who took part in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, which included regular MRI imaging sessions over the course of two years. The subjects had varying levels of cognitive health, ranging from no signs of brain decline to patients with Alzheimer’s.
What they found is that participants who didn’t get as much sleep, specifically deeper REM sleep when the body does the bulk of its restorative processes, had higher levels of those toxic amyloid-beta and tau proteins and more signs of Alzheimer’s-related behavior over the course of two years. The research also confirms other studies and reviews that’ve investigated and discovered similar connections in the past.
If you haven’t been sleeping well recently, there’s no time like the present to start. Scientists believe that the cognitive effects from lack of sleep require years to set in, so taking immediate action to improve your sleep habits over time, such as making sure you’re in a cool, dark room and not looking at screens at least 30 minutes beforehand, can help. It’s time to get some real shut-eye!